Star Trek: Voyager: Learning Curve   Rewatch 
February 23, 2017 3:33 AM - Season 1, Episode 16 - Subscribe


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- One motive that freelance writing partners Ron Wilkerson and Jean Louise Matthias had in devising this episode's premise was to experiment with creating unusually rebellious officers. "One of the things that intrigued us," Matthias admitted, "was the chance to step out of the Starfleet persona. Star Trek people are pretty darn nice and for trouble-making writers that can be a problem." The story idea also gave the writing duo a chance to explore the Vulcan character of Tuvok, they having introduced the Vulcan Ensign Taurik in their script for TNG: "Lower Decks". Wilkerson explained, "We knew they wanted to do a Tuvok story, and if we know they want a certain character-story we will direct a few pitches to that story. That's good business if nothing else. And we love Vulcans, Jean especially."

- In the episode's original coda, Neelix and Tuvok had a discussion from which Tuvok realized that he had made an impact on his Maquis students. Ron Wilkerson explained, "It was done physically with a trick that Tuvok had been trying to teach the students, a Zen kind of thing which involved holding a rod a certain way. None of them could do it properly, and ultimately Neelix showed Tuvok that he could do it, implying that he had learned it from Maquis, so Tuvok had gotten through to them. It was a cute moment and, unfortunately, it didn't make it into the cut."

- This is the final episode of Voyager's first season. However, it was not the last episode filmed as part of that season, as four episodes produced during Season 1 were held back to air with Season 2; these were "Projections", "Elogium", "Twisted", and "The 37's". Unlike most of the season finales in Voyager, this episode is a standalone episode of regular duration. However, "The 37's" was originally intended to be the first season finale and the possibility of it being a two-part episode was initially considered. Voyager's team of writer/producers regretted the fact that this episode inadvertently proved to be the first season finale. Ken Biller explained, "We ended on a run-of-the-mill episode where Tuvok was the drill instructor. It wasn't a cliffhanger. It wasn't a season-ender. It had no bang. We just sort of disappeared."

- The producers generally also felt, however, that the episode worked well as a standalone installment of the series. Braga opined, "It's a good idea for an episode, actually. Tuvok becoming the drill instructor is charming [....] In its own right [...] I thought it was fun." Piller agreed, "It might not be a season finale, but it's a good, solid show. I thought it was entertaining. It was a show that we had never done before that we could do here for the first time."

- However, Ken Biller also thought the cheese plot device was not entirely successful. He said, "I thought it was hilarious, but I don't think people got it that there was some tongue-in-cheek element." Ron Wilkerson defended the use of the cheese plot device: "What's wrong with that concept? We've seen lots of wrenches in the works in almost any kind of mechanism that you can imagine [....] After all, a tiny grommet knocked out the power generators in Niagara Falls that blacked out New York City for an entire evening twenty years ago, and a little break in an O-ring knocked out the Challenger. So if tiny, stupid little things bring down the mighty, why not cheese?"

- The backpacks worn by Tuvok and his Maquis students were reused backpacks from TNG: "Chain of Command, Part I".

"I don't want to get to know you... and I don't want to be your friend."

- Dalby, to Tuvok

"Get the cheese to sickbay."

- B'Elanna Torres

"Uh, you missed a spot."

- Harry Kim, to Chell who is degaussing the transporter pad with a micro-resonator

"These are Keela flowers. They're beautiful and remarkably strong. The stem is flexible. It's impossible to break. But, occasionally, on the same plant, there's a bloom whose stem is not so flexible. Ah, here's one, see? And when the stem is brittle, it breaks."
"You're saying that the Maquis crew is rigid and inflexible, that they will never adjust to Starfleet rules."
"No, Mr. Vulcan. I'm saying that you are rigid and inflexible. But maybe if you learn to bend a little, you might have better luck with your class."

- Neelix and Tuvok

Poster's Log: Many participants in the season 1 threads have expressed undiluted affection for the Doctor. And I love the Doctor too, but for me, it's Tuvok. Objectively, the Doctor is a more…involving?…character, but it's always Tuvok that I look forward to in my VOY rewatches. Why that is, I'm not certain, but one theory I've long maintained is that it's because he's one of the few fully-developed full-blooded Vulcans; we basically get three—Sarek, Tuvok, and T'Pol—and Sarek's often a full-on jerk. T'Pol, well, they tried. So that leaves Tuvok as almost the standard-bearer of the excellent Vulcan species concept, and, well, he's great. If only the show had spent even a third as much time with him through all seven seasons as it did on Seven of Nine through four seasons. There are too many numbers in that sentence.

Likewise, I can usually appreciate a frisson of silly in my Trek, so the cheese bit tickles me even though it's a pretty flimsy malfunction-of-the-week to hang the episode's climax on. It's also great to see Roxann Dawson trying so hard not to crack up. So I enjoy this one, but yes, it should not have been a season-ender; it just makes season 1 feel like it ends abruptly. And the episode itself ends abruptly, too, since they cut what should have been the coda (as mentioned above). It must have been an entirely different experience to watch this when it first aired, and then go "Wait, that's IT for the season?!"

Poster's Log, Supplemental: I have no evidence to suggest that brill cheese was named in honor of independent journalist and CourtTV founder Steven Brill, but I choose to believe it was.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (15 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My take on Tuvok and the rest of the characters in enjoying the show:

Tuvok/Russ is great, and is as much the glue that holds the show together as any character save for Janeway. He's consistently interesting, even though he doesn't get as many episodes "about" him as some of the other characters. Russ does an excellent job with managing to seem wholly Vulcan, but still giving the audience some indication of how to "read" his character without slipping too far into emotionalism.

Beltran strikes me as a fine choice of actor for his role, but with the episodes about him being largely disappointing due more to the writing than Beltran. Picardo is obviously a fan favorite for good reason, but he too suffered once the writers decided to make him the comic character, pushing that a little too hard and losing a good deal of his more serious and competent side in the bargain, the kind of thing we saw in the medicine wheel moment in a previous episode.

As the doctor starts to be written more broadly, Neelix starts to become more interesting, but these early season episodes and initial concept of the character still cause some difficulty in coming around to him.

B'Elanna gets some good episodes, but tends to disappear in others, with Dawson's pregnancy coming into play there, causing her character to come in and out of focus rather more than is ideal.

Harry remains my favorite character, but he too sometimes ends up with some pretty minimal engagement in a lot of episodes and a couple of those about him later on aren't really favorites of mine, but he, like Russ is always good interacting with the others and keeping themselves enjoyable in even smaller moments.

Paris is Paris, sometimes he gets some good stuff to do but his character is always something of a pain when on his own, much better when he's playing against Harry, Tuvok, or Chakotay, not so great with B'Elanna other than their big floating in space moment.

As mentioned many times before, Lien is wasted as Kes, but I say that due to her getting some really fine moments before they give her the heave ho, which is what causes regret at that decision.

Seven is an excellent character, really a good move to bring her on the show, even if they go overboard with her story and episodes. I'll add my enjoyment of Naomi Wildman and Icheb and the other former Borg children and also say I wish they'd used Chell a lot more. he had promise!
posted by gusottertrout at 6:46 AM on February 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm also glad for a Tuvok episode, because I've been waiting for one since the beginning of the season. And, I think, if I just forget that Tuvok was theoretically planted in the Maquis as a spy for months before the show started, it works well. As it is, I have a couple questions about that? I mean, I assume he wasn't really a leader in there, but a) the fact that the Maquis don't really react to the fact that he was spying on them and b) Tuvok apparently learned nothing about them when he was a spy.

I'm also glad they're doing something, anything with half of the general premise of the show, though part of me really wishes there was some consideration of how the Maquis' way of doing things might be better under some circumstances for more of a blended ship. This also still seems very mild for the worst troublemakers, though after the last conversation on this I went back to the Maquis DS9 episodes and realized that the worst of the antagonism happens after these episodes chronologically (and mostly Sisko vs. Eddington). I still wish there was a little more interspersed through the first season, maybe hold off on the Seska reveal (or showed the cast of this episode earlier), have there be more wariness about sending information to loved ones over Federation channels, maybe have someone react with suspicion when the Maquis leader and the former spy go off-ship and then one comes back unconscious with the logs erased. . .

Also, apparently Chakotay isn't really a committee person as much as he is a punching people in the face person. Still a different leadership style, so I'm glad there's that.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:54 AM on February 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

All aboard the Tuvok love train! Srsly tho, the way in which Tim Russ shapes Tuvok's persona is an interesting contrast to how Leonard Nimoy portrayed Spock. If you go back and watch TOS, it's sometimes shocking how often Spock is smiling. (In "The Cage", he's outright grinning without the excuse of some virus or space pollen, but that was eliminated when his character was sort of merged with that of Number One after that character was eliminated; I think the change was retconned as the youthful Spock experimenting with letting his human freak flag fly.) Tuvok, on the other hand, tends to go with various subtle shades of irritation, particularly when he's up against Neelix, where they get to play variations on some old Quark/Odo riffs. (One of them is how observant Quark could be of people in his bar; Neelix makes some canny observations of the changes in Tuvok's routine, which in turn illustrate some interesting things about the Vulcan: not only does he usually take his tea while reading--which indicates that he's not particularly interested in socializing during his mess hall time--but he tends to face away from the window. You'd think that one of the simplest pleasures aboard a not-large ship would be just to look outside.) That persona also plays off well against the different Maquis personalities.

In fact, I wish that they'd done some follow-up on this instead of just making it a single one-and-done episode. I've said before that there could have been a lot more done with the Starfleet and Maquis crew influencing each other, instead of everyone just becoming more Starfleet, and that could extend to their personal philosophies as well; Tuvok will work with other people (Kes and Lon Suder, maybe Seven?) on mental discipline, and I think that Gerron and maybe even Dalby could have used some of that, even without going full-out kolinahr. As with the unfulfilled potential of watching Kes develop through most of her life cycle, we never really got to see these characters develop as officers throughout the course of the show; the only one who shows up again, in fact, is Chell, the Bolian, and most of his "appearances" were just references to him by other characters.

Other things: I raised a "Vulcanian" eyebrow at Tuvok telling Gerron to take off the earring; I thought that that had already been dealt with in "Ensign Ro." (A line that it was the sort of thing that had to be earned might have been appropriate; we know from DS9 that it's got a lot of significance in Bajoran culture, and it's certainly less ostentatious than Worf's baldric.) I'm glad that they finally showed some consequences to their ongoing locavorism. Chakotay's "so you wanna go that way, eh" thing was probably my favorite moment from him this season. And my favorite Doctor moment wasn't his affecting a bedside manner with the bioneural gelpack (although I did like the implication that he was doing it in reaction to said bedside manner being criticized earlier by someone), but how he was cool as a cucumber while everyone else was sweating buckets. Finally, Tuvok's assertion that "it is always tactically correct to sacrifice the few for the many" is an echo of "the needs of the many outweigh those of the few, or the one"; one of their previous training exercises was similar to the Kobayashi Maru scenario, and Tuvok was ultimately willing to go where at least one (part-)Vulcan had gone before.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:24 AM on February 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

I also liked the 'sacrifice the few for the many' as the source of the main conflict between Tuvok and the Maquis in this episode, because that's really the source of the Maquis conflict, too - in a lot of ways, the rights of those colonists were sacrificed for the greater good of the Federation. Also, it just makes sense that a smaller guerrilla force would have stronger feelings about not leaving anyone behind, because they can't afford to lose anyone.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:33 AM on February 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Other things: I raised a "Vulcanian" eyebrow at Tuvok telling Gerron to take off the earring; I thought that that had already been dealt with in "Ensign Ro." (A line that it was the sort of thing that had to be earned might have been appropriate; we know from DS9 that it's got a lot of significance in Bajoran culture, and it's certainly less ostentatious than Worf's baldric.)

Ro only got to wear the earring because Picard gave her special dispensation (or so the ending of that episode strongly implies). As for the baldric, well, maybe it's just that you don't piss off a Klingon? Or that his special role as the first one in Starfleet grants him some sort of special leeway.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 9:08 AM on February 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Honestly though I really like Tuvok, this episode felt rather out of character of him to me. The fact that he seems caught off guard and totally clueless that the maquis might have trouble with his training techniques seems like substituting in generic Vulcan traits for Tuvok.

Because Tuvok's been around humans and in Starfleet a good long time. In other episodes, he seems to perfectly well expect humans to do their human thing, he just thinks they would do better off doing more things the Vulcan way. He seems very at peace being a Vulcan with his own ways among humans who do things totally differently. And it just seemed jarring to me that his response to being confronted about the fact that his training techniques weren't going to work was more of a "What? Really?" rather than what I'd expect from Tuvok, which is "I know that, but they should find a way to stick it out with my way anyway because it will be better for them."

Then again, first episodes tend to be a bit more uneven about how characters act because they're still finding their feet.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:34 AM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is, so far, easily the episode that my opinion has changed most on since my initial viewing. At the time, it felt to me that they were being too harsh with Tuvok and the Maquis crew were too aggressive in their defiance or something, I only vaguely remember what exactly. On rewatch, however, I have to say it's one of the best episodes of the first season, only suffering by being later in the season than it should have been and being wrapped up too neatly. In hindsight, this episode would have been even better if it had been slotted in place of the Tom Paris adulterer! episode and that one moved back to later in the season. From there it both makes more sense and would hopefully spur further investigation of the Maquis crew.

Even without that though I found both the plot and the cast much more enjoyable this time around than I evidently did the first time with Dalby, in particular, coming across more sensibly and the cheese plot more amusingly in how it engaged most of the crew. I'm still not quite sold on Tuvok's alleged dilemma, since it doesn't seem quite right to suggest Starfleet protocol would demand leaving a crew member behind, even as everyone is well aware that Tuvok would have no intention of actually doing so. A little more finesse about that issue in the dialogue would have pleased me a touch more, but that's nitpicking when there was so many good moments to focus on instead.

The exchange between Tuvok and Neelix, for example, comes off better than I would have thought, with each being undercut in their stances by the other's notice of something each missed in their usual methods. Kes suggesting a virus in the bacteria to the doctor too almost seemed a bit much, given their respective positions, but it does work for me with the idea that the doctor was focusing his knowledge so intently in one direction that he may not have allowed his program to expand to wider possibilities. It's a borderline call, but it works well enough to keep Kes involved and pays off in the scene where the doctor gives the all clear, perfectly cheery in his hologram constant temperature, and the camera pulls back to show Kes drenched in sweat. The doctor's earlier exchange with B'Elanna over the "patient" of course is also pretty swell as was his initial interest in having a gel pack to examine.

Chakotay plays the "Maquis way" punch as well as one could hope, as he also does the scene where Janeway sets up Tuvok as drill instructor. Her idea for doing that is pretty spot on for her character, one would have to only wonder how much she intended Tuvok to learn about them in addition to the Maquis crew learning about Starfleet. That element could have been played up, or not, either way it all seemed fitting to her character.

I also liked the holonovel intro much better this time, now that it's clear what they did with it, it seems more interesting to watch than it did when it seemed like just another trip to hololand on my original viewing. It too ties in nicely with some of the things we were discussing about the concept of holonovels in the last episode where this came up, and gives some better indication how it might work for Janeway adopting the character given her practicing of an introduction to the children. Given how relationship and emotionally driven those kinds of novels are compared to something like Beowulf or Picard's detective, trying to imagine adopting a persona that fits the story and would still remain both plausibly "playable" and of interest to be played was a difficulty, but this episode at least hints a little better at how that might work in practice.

With the holonovel and the Maquis characters this episode carries the feeling that they were at least exploring more involved longer form story telling, even if that was ultimately nixed by the producers. So the suggestion is there that they did want to try to do more in that direction, even if they didn't get to do as much as they would have liked in the end. Which, as we've noted, is too bad since doing things like keeping those Maquis characters as infrequent, but more involved reoccurring roles, something like Reg Barkley but used a little more often, would have been a big plus for the show.

Halloween Jack and dinty_moore's suggestions about echoes from TOS movies is also of interest in how that relates to the Maquis vs Starfleet way of thinking. I wish they had gone further in that direction, as has been noted before, but this was a fine nod at trying to give that some exploration.

All in all, my only real complaints about the episode are of them not doing more like it or more with it as this could serve as a decent template for what Voyager really could have become, something they struggled off and on with until they reach the Borg.

On preview: Yes, I do regret a little that they, or Starfleet, don't allow a little bit more individualization in accessories since they tend to work to make characters more interesting by giving them something of an individual identity, even if it isn't wholly explored. I wish, at least, that would have been something relaxed during the merger of the crews.

The Tuvok is clueless thing, I think, did bother me a lot on first viewing, since it doesn't make easy sense and tends to fit too readily into the trope of always undercutting smart characters which is a perennial mainstay of US media, but in this instance they did, I think, manage to maintain Tuvok's intelligence so it wasn't quite as tropey as I remembered. That Tuvok actually served with those crew members on Chakotay's ship is a little harder to adjust for, and I wish they had at least nodded towards acknowledging that, but that's again a minor problem, just one that, by addressing, could have made the episode even better.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:49 AM on February 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Now I just want the pre-series fic where Tuvok is pretending to be Maquis and the Maquis have no idea what to do with this dude. They've got a lot of former Starfleet around, but this one is extra-Starfleet and doesn't seem to be able to adjust to the Maquis way of doing things.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:57 AM on February 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm half-tempted to write that fic, as I'd have it play out that at first Tuvok is just putting Chakotay & Co. on, but as he discusses the logical case for the Maquis with the crew of the Val Jean, he starts to talk himself into it, and is on the verge of pulling an Eddington when all of a sudden they're in the DQ and Janeway is beaming them aboard Voyager.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:04 PM on February 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Now I just want the pre-series fic where Tuvok is pretending to be Maquis and the Maquis have no idea what to do with this dude. They've got a lot of former Starfleet around, but this one is extra-Starfleet and doesn't seem to be able to adjust to the Maquis way of doing things.

And the faceless Maquis are like "Hey, Chakotay, maybe we ought to be kind of suspicious of this guy" and he punches them for it.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 1:41 PM on February 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Ok, I doubt I will ever come close to providing the level of analysis that you folks do. But, one thing that's struck me about Tuvok is: How does some with as long a service record as he has (16 years teaching cadets at the academy, service on other ships, Janeway's most trusted advisor, etc), still only hold the rank of Lieutenant? Maybe he's just always been too "By the book?"
posted by michswiss at 7:03 PM on February 23, 2017

Well, he resigned his commission after his first assignment (as shown in VOY: "Flashback," easily one of my top three episodes of the series); I won't go into detail because it's spoiler territory. But he didn't return to Starfleet for fifty years after that, according to his MA page.

Also, spending lots of years teaching at the Academy likely doesn't do much for one's rank.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:07 AM on February 24, 2017

This reminds me of a comment that I made on a Tumblr post: it's very likely that Starfleet doesn't operate on the same up-or-out basis as the American military, where you either get promoted to the next rank within a certain amount of time or get kicked out. (Thus, Harry Kim, the seven-year ensign.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:28 AM on February 24, 2017

Been a busy week, so I only even watched this last night.

Particle of the Week: Honorable mention to Neelix's cheese.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: Bio-neural gelpacks are available as a special equipment upgrade in STO. They do not make your ship vulnerable to cheeses, sneezes or miscellaneous biohazards. They do make a ship more responsive, faster in a firefight.
Equipment Tally: Still need to go back and do a full one. It's also unclear how many of the 48 spare bio-neural gelpacks could be salvaged, though it seems reasonable that the Doctor could cure the one brought to sickbay.

* Count me as another Tuvok fan.

I actually like most of the casting in Voyager - I feel like they did a good job matching actors to intended personalities and roles in general, and that even their guest casting is usually pretty good. As you guys have already discussed, Tim Russ benefits from the added advantage of Tuvok being a well-written character. I think the Planet of the Hats thing actually works to his advantage - Vulcans are characters the writers do seem to understand pretty well, so they can get into a comfortable groove with him.

* I do not like the way the Maquis are treated very much.

That Tuvok actually served with those crew members on Chakotay's ship is a little harder to adjust for, and I wish they had at least nodded towards acknowledging that, but that's again a minor problem, just one that, by addressing, could have made the episode even better.

I had a problem with this, yeah. Their introduction to Tuvok is that he was a narc: he infiltrated their ship with the intention of arresting them. Instructor at the academy or no, that's something that needed to at least be addressed before putting him in a small room with them.

I also really disliked Chakotay punching Dalby. It's not the first time I've noticed his management style with the Maquis was unnecessarily violent, but it was certainly the most abrupt. This all would've worked better if they had kept the Maquis thread up, instead of basically forgetting about them for most of S1. It also raises the question of, 'are these guys violent thugs, or are they former Federation citizens with valid complaints?'

Dalby's story also muddies that water thematically. In his shoes, I probably would've gone Maquis too. It also felt like Neelix's story last time - a little too brutal for Voyager's overall tone.

It also brings up how little effort the senior staff of Voyager have made to integrate the crews, mostly just telling them 'this is how it is, get it done.' Doesn't reflect well on Chakotay or Janeway in particular. Putting this episode into like the first five would've gone a long way toward fixing that, along with adding more followup. The ending's much too tidy.

* Voyager clearly needed more time on the drawing board.

Voyager almost being destroyed by Neelix's cooking was pretty funny. I don't have any complaints about it either - Voyager was depicted as experimental to start with, so having some unforeseen problems like this made sufficient sense to me.

So my overall feeling about this was largely, 'too little, too late,' but I guess they get points for remembering it needed to be addressed at all?
posted by mordax at 9:47 AM on February 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

The bit with Gerron's earring made me wonder if there are any Earth religious symbols in the Trek world. Nobody wears a cross or a turban that I can think of; even Worf's dad doesn't wear a hat, as far as I remember.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:13 PM on January 2

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